Celebrating a Festival Jesus Celebrated this Christmas Season
Never in my wildest dreams did I think our family would celebrate Hanukkah! Would you? I grew up enjoying everything Christmas and never gave Hanukkah a second thought. It was a Jewish holiday and so it didn’t fit, or so I thought!
I’m actually really ashamed to admit that all I ever knew about Hanukkah was that it had to do with lighting candles, a weird top called a dreidel, and it was filled “eight crazy nights” according to Adam Sandler. Yes, sad that most of my knowledge came from this song!
But what I found is that Hanukkah is really all about celebrating God’s miraculous ways and sharing it with each generation.
Then I learned that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.
It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.
John 10:22 (New Living Translation)
What!?! Did you know that? I swear I’ve read that passage a million times and never realized Jesus was ever involved in Hanukkah, not until I learned another name for it was the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Dedication. It’s also known as the Festival of Lights, Chanukah, and Chanukiah. It’s amazing once I started to learn about Jewish history and customs how the New Testament came alive even more, but that’s another post.
Once I learned these facts, my family and I couldn’t wait to celebrate Hanukkah. We love celebrating our Lord and Savior and couldn’t believe that Jesus celebrated it too!
When we started celebrating Hanukkah, our children were 6, 5, 3, and just over 1. I did not know what to expect from them but wanted them to be involved so we found a short book called The Story of Hanukkah to read about the history of what led up to the re-dedication of the temple and why it is celebrated.
If you don’t have time to get this book, here are some great videos to show that give a good explanation.
A short 2-minute video about Hanukkah for kids.
A more detailed explanation from a Messianic Jewish perspective (Jews who believe Christ is Lord).
History of Hanukkah
In a nutshell, the Israelites were under Greek rule. Under Antiochus III, they were allowed to worship God as they always had and lived in peace, but once he died and his son Antiochus IV took over, things changed for the worse. The Israelites were forbidden to worship their God upon penalty of death. The holy books were destroyed and the Israelites were commanded to worship the Greek gods that had been placed in the confiscated temple! Can you imagine!?!
An old priest named Mattathias led the people in a revolt, which turned into a war. Even when he died, his sons–especially one in particular named Judah–carried on the fight for religious freedom and miraculously thwarted the great Greek army. Judah was nicknamed Maccabee, meaning hammer, and all those who fought with him were referred to as the Maccabees.
But that wasn’t the only miracle. Once the Israelites won the battle against the Greeks, they returned and started to restore the temple. They rededicated the temple to God and lit the Menorah. As commanded by Moses, once lit it was never supposed to be allowed to go out. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it turned out they only had enough olive oil for one night and the process to make more would take at least eight days. Even though they only had enough oil for one night, God kept the Menorah lit those entire eight days and nights! So every year since then, Jews have celebrated this miracle.
The symbolism to Christ in Hanukkah
The Shamash Candle means The Servant Candle.
The Servant Candle is the one that lights all the other candles. This is the perfect parallel to Christ. He is the light of the world and calls us to shine his light too! We get our light from him!
When and How We Celebrate Hanukkah!
The Hanukkah celebration starts every year on the 25th of Kislev, which is a different time every year on our calendar. In 2018, it begins on the evening of December 2nd and will end on the evening of December 10th. Isn’t that exciting! We can literally kickoff this Holiday season by celebrating a festival that Jesus, himself, celebrated! I’m ecstatic!
This is how we added Hanukkah to our Christmas routine very simply. (Hint: It’s not overwhelming but one of the most peaceful things we have every done.)
Every night around dusk, we would bring the kids into the living room by turning on this hilarious song called Candlelight by The Maccabeats.
After dancing and laughing to this song a few times, we would turn off the lights and light the servant candle. Then depending on the day we would light the corresponding number of candles, letting the kids take turns lighting the candles. (The first day, we lit one candle. The second day, we lit two, and so on.) As we lit the candles we recited the blessing then talked about how Jesus is the light of the world and we are called to be his lights too.
After lighting the candles, the first couple of nights we read through the book mentioned above, then prayed and sang some songs.
The following nights we asked the kids why we were celebrating Hanukkah and reviewed the story, then we would talk about some of our favorite miracles from the Bible and even the miracles our Lord has done in our own lives. We usually spent about an hour together focusing this way on God’s goodness, singing, and worshiping together.
It was one of the most peaceful, relaxing, joyful times we have had during the Christmas season! This year, when I pulled out the menorah, our children asked if they could light the candles immediately! I was thrilled!
Over the years we added a few more fun things, but didn’t want to miss the focus.
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For dinner together, we have tried some of the fried foods, which are the typical celebratory foods. They eat a lot of foods fried in olive oil to commemorate how long the olive oil lasted.
Here are a few recipes:
Latkes (fried hash brown pancakes) And just in case you need some inspiration in song form check out this video!
Sufganiyot (small doughnuts)
During our play time, we also play spin the dreidel.
We could add a lot of extras in there. Pinterest is full of ideas, but truly, I loved how we focused on God’s miraculous ways. We didn’t get overwhelmed by adding one more thing to our already packed schedule. Like I mentioned before, it was actually the perfect resting time…by celebrating Hanukkah we were resting and basking in God’s goodness. What could be better than that during a season where we are wanting to focus all our attention on the miracle of Christ?
Have you celebrated Hanukkah?
What are some of your traditions?
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I’m not sure I’ll run out and start celebrating this year, but it is good food for thought. Some Jewish celebrations are really part of the history of our God and worthy of real attention by Christians. I can see that there are some good reasons to consider celebrating Hanukkah. If nothing else, as a way to focus on Jesus more and experience a celebration he did. That has to be a unique experience to be partaking in a ceremony that Jesus himself did. Great idea!
Yes, you are right, Jennifer! Delving into the historical side of how God has protected his people is amazing and really brings a greater understanding of much of the New Testament and many of the things Jesus talked about. Blessings to you and your family!
Very interesting! I have been a Christian almost my whole life and never knew this! I ‘m so glad I read this! I laughed at the Adam Sandler part!
Lol! Valerie, yes, it’s so sad that the Adam Sandler song is all I had to go on. Thankful to be learning and growing all the time!
I’ve always loved the history surrounding Hanukah, it was part of my high school courses actually. I can see how it would be a fun holiday to celebrate as a Christian
OH wow! That’s neat that you learned about it in High School.
i loved latkes when i was growing up 😀
We have done a Sedar meal in the past as it is a wonderful way to experience part of what Christ did. But, I’ve never gone beyond reading a few books with the boys for Hanukkah.
Sounds like I have a lot to learn. I would love to read more on this topic! Thanks for sharing!
I am sad to say that I am with you on the history of Hanukkah and Adam Sandler’s song. But, I actually LOVE this post and the idea behind it! I got a book out over the summer on different religions and different holidays, but didn’t get around to reading it. (I read a lot of Bully/bullying books and that was our summer topic). I think teaching my children about different religions and Holidays that go with them is important, because while I am a Christian and am doing my best to raise them to be as well, I want… Read more »
Hanukkah is a really beautiful festival. I really like how you explained it here. I like the servant candle analogy too. What a great post!
This is interesting, I also know very very little about Hanukkah and most of what I do know, I’ve learned, to my shame, through TV shows! And maybe that’s not even accurate. Thank you for this, it’s certainly a lot to consider! 🙂
Very fun! I love the idea of diving into the historical parts of Christianity and celebrate how Jesus would have.:) We had a dog named Dreidle growing up…and we were Catholic. It was a funny story for all who heard her name.:)
This is so cool! I love learning all about the things different religions celebrate and I’m totally with you, Hanukkah can definitely be celebrated as Christians and it can point to Christ. It was pointing to the Messiah back in the day and Christ was (is) the Messiah! I really want to attend a real Passover dinner sometime!
We have attended Passover Seders and they truly are an amazing way to get a better understanding of Christ. You are right, Susannah, all of these feasts point to Christ!
I was thinking about researching this a bit this year, but you beat me to the punch. Thanks so much for providing all this great information. I look forward to learning more about it with my family!
There are ways to always dig a little deeper! Enjoy learning about it with your family!
Kristi, I heard an analogy one time about evangelism that if you wanted to get someone to buy your watch, don’t criticize their watch. Instead, speak well of yours. The idea is people often become defensive when feeling criticized, whether it’s their religion, decisions, family members, etc. Anyway, I appreciate that you seemed to take that approach with this post. Instead of criticizing those who don’t celebrate Hanukkah, or striving to argue people into observing it, you made it look attractive through your presentation. I took a class in seminary on the Intertestamental Period and thoroughly enjoyed learning the history… Read more »
Thank you, Scott! Yes, our joy in celebrating Jesus sparked our enjoyment of celebrating this holiday. My wish is for Christ to be seen and glorified in our everyday lives, whether people choose to celebrate Hanukkah or not.
I’ve never once considered celebrating Hanukkah. You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. It’s so cool that Jesus celebrated it! I had never noticed that verse either!
I know! Beka, once I realized that Jesus celebrated it, I had to learn what it was about.
This is an awesome idea! I know that we’ve done a Seder dinner during Lent as a way to be in touch with the roots of Christianity. But, I never considered celebrating Hanukkah in our house.
Definitely food for thought for next year.
Thank you, Laura! We have celebrated the Seder as well and were amazed at how much we learned, especially about the Lord’s supper. God is truly amazing and teaches us so much when we stop and observe these festivals.
You know we keep the Biblical feasts and holidays!! Glad to see you jumping in as well!
Loving how much about Jesus we are learning in the process!
Love this! Chag Urim Sameach!